It all started last Fall, when founders Jenni and Jason Doherty came to speak at Marin Academy and my son Jono and wife Joanne came home talking about a school in Kenya and how Jono was thinking he might travel to Africa this summer. My first thought was, ‘East Africa? No way.’ Then I too met the Dohertys and learned more about this incredible program.
After some discussion about the school’s needs and research into various fundraising approaches, Jono began writing letters to – well – everyone, in an attempt to fund a computer lab for the school. The response was astounding. Seemingly everyone who heard of the project wanted to help. Ultimately, Jono raised over $7,000 in donations, plus another few thousand dollars’ worth of digital cameras donated by members of the Marin Photography Club.
Because of the limited electrical power at the school, the decision was made to buy Toshiba netbooks with 10 hour batteries. (I’ll add a plug for Best Buy here: When the local salesman was approached and learned more about the project, he found a way to offer the supplies below his cost!
So to Kenya went a room-full of laptops, mice, headphones, external hard drives, digital cameras, flash drives (for students and staff to store their data), DVD/CD-RW drives, an N-band wireless router, 240V surge protectors, and assorted cleaning supplies and peripherals. In short, an entire computer and photography lab!
But the lab was just the starting point. The focus of the project simultaneously turned to teaching the concepts necessary to take advantage of these tools. Lesson plans were created for basic computer learning and introductory photography skills. In addition, John King, a retired engineer who teaches seniors to use computers in the local adult ed program, was recruited to write companion written lessons for the computer project. In addition to the countless hours that he put into writing four lessons, he offered some great advice for the classroom curriculum. (At the Cavallo Point fundraiser, he and his wife also bought a cow for the school. “After all,” he said, “when else in their lives would they be able to say that they bought a cow?”)
As winter turned into spring, it was decided that it would be me that would be joining Jono in Kenya. While we talked through curriculum development and how to present the concepts to students with little if any prior technology access, Joanne assisted with fundraising and took care of the medical aspects of our trip preparation – each day seemed to bring a new vaccination. J
When visiting the U.S. in May, Jenni and Jason volunteered to help transport the equipment the 9,600 miles to the school. The computers and cameras were farmed out between them, us, and a half dozen other volunteers who were making the trip. (And I still fondly remember the day when we brought the equipment over to their home. What an exciting moment as all of the planning took on the air of reality that this was all going to happen.)
A few weeks later, school in Marin was out and Jono and I made the long trip to Kenya.
In September 2009 Boulder’s Daraja supporters got together to throw a benefit and spread the word about the amazing work being done at Daraja Academy. With about 100 people in attendance, including founders Jason and Jenni Doherty, the Boulder community opened their hearts to the incredible and inspiring work unfolding at Daraja. The money raised at that event helped welcome a second class of girls to Daraja Academy. Once you hear of the passion Jason and Jenni have for the young women of Kenya, you can’t help but become a part of their dream. Looking back over the past year and knowing all of the important strides Daraja has made since September it’s hard to believe what has happened: new class of students, dorms being built, water supply in place, computer room, etc. The girls of Daraja are so lucky to be a part of this ground breaking program. Well done, Daraja Academy! Boulder is here for you!
I first met Jason and Jenni at a fundraiser right after they acquired Daraja Academy. Their passion and vision for the school was inspiring. Over the next year I watched Daraja Academy become a reality as they welcomed their first class of girls. After hearing about another volunteer’s experience, I was sold! Within months I was on a plane to Nairobi with a suitcase filled with treats for the girls. Upon arrival, I found that my first challenge was to learn the names of the 26 girls and all the staff. Soon I learned not only the girl’s names, but where their families lived, their favorite subjects and what the wanted to be when they grew up. The school campus is spread over 60 acres and houses not only the students, but the teachers, kitchen staff, guards and all their families. In addition there are chicken, goats, sheep, dogs, cats, cows and birds that roam the lands. My accommodations were lovely – a rondoval (a circular building with thatched roof and mud walls) with a big bedroom, bath and sitting area. I felt safe walking around the campus and in the nearby towns. Equipped for any possible health challenge, I ate everything and didn’t have problems at all.
Over the two weeks of my visit, I taught several classes on public speaking. With time I watched some very shy girls gain confidence in their new skills. In the last week, they even asked for an extra class on their day off. These young girls are eager to learn all they can so that they have the skills to become successful doctors, nurses, journalists and teachers. I am confident that Daraja Academy is giving them what they need to realize their dreams. Leaving the girls of Daraja was tough. It was hard to say goodbye to these beautiful girls and the magic of Daraja. We were all comforted by my promise to visit again. I plan to return to to Daraja next Spring.
Volunteering at Daraja was a valuable and interesting experience that I will always treasure. Living at the foot of Mount Kenya in my own rondoval on the campus was fantastic. The scenery and wildlife was the perfect backdrop for my experience. As a volunteer at Daraja I was able to be involved in a multitude of activities. I started the school’s netball team, assisted the teachers, helped with the media club, tutored the girls and helped in the garden. ?The most rewarding experience was to meet and to get to know each of the girls. Despite their tough backgrounds they are so incredibly strong, motivated and honestly very inspirational. It was because of the girls that leaving Daraja was very difficult and yet happy as I felt so privileged to have been able to help them. I would highly recommend volunteering at Daraja to those with an adventurous spirit and to those who do not mind getting their hands dirty!
- Charlotte Cameron, Australia
After my first visit to Daraja in the summer of 2009, there was no question that I would return. Daraja is a magical place that wraps around your heart and fills you with hope and inspiration. I experienced the dedication of the teachers and staff and the commitment of the students during my two week visit. I knew that Daraja would become a big part of my life. I also knew that water would be a factor to help sustain the school. As I wrote in my blog,” Education is a dream for these girls and water is a necessity to sustain that dream”.
My fundraising began small; pennies collected from my students, dollars donated from friends to events in California and generous donors who believe in Daraja. The University of San Diego is a partner with Daraja and the first annual fundraiser was held this past May. The outpouring from the community was overwhelming. With the help of many supporters, money was raised to build rain catchments and to begin work on the water well. A dream became reality.
The magic of Daraja is contagious. It seems that everyone I talk with about Daraja wants to become involved in some way. We now have one faculty member who made a visit and through her book club raised money to sponsor a Daraja girl. Her proposed course will bring graduate students from USD there as part of the school’s international service. The Dean is traveling to Daraja this summer. A group of students from the non-profit, WitKids, created a talent show and raised money for the water project as well. We are all linked and together have built bridges to Daraja.
To advocate for these remarkable young women to have the opportunity to an education is joyous. I am proud to be part of this extended family. Daraja exists because of the spirit of the founders, Jason and Jenni Doherty, two remarkable persons who make a difference in the lives of these amazing young women every day. If you reach out your hands it is easy to catch the magic.
We are three sisters who wanted to organize a group of women that would find different projects that we could donate our time and money to. Our intention was to spend 6 months with a charity in the United States then 6 months with something internationally.
We were told about Jenni and Jason and their dream for the Daraja Academy through a mutual friend. The moment we met with Jenni and Jason we knew we had found our cause. We felt we were getting our local and international group all in one. They are from our area in California and their school is in Kenya; the perfect match!
We started out as The Giving Circle and have since changed our name to The Daraja Giving Circle. We have held charity events, luncheons and teas helping raise money and spreading the word about the amazing work the academy is doing to bring education to girls that would never have the chance to advance in the world. The fact that so many different tribes are under the same roof living as sisters while their tribes our fighting outside the walls of Daraja. The fact that they are learning to live together, solve problems together and love each other as family will alter our world. It is this kind of caring and supportive school that will stop war, hunger, overpopulation, lack of education and the list goes on and on.
These amazing young women will grow up knowing how important an education is and will pass that onto their children. The education they are receiving will help them go out into world and not only be able to cope but cure so many of the worlds problems.
Our loyalty runs very deep with Daraja. This is a very special and magical place that transforms not only the students but anyone involved with this program. We urge you to invest in this amazing school as you will not only be helping in a life changing program but you will find more joy then you know when you start getting to know the girls, Jenni, Jason and the staff of Daraja.